Wharton, Edith Newbold Jones

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Wharton, Edith Newbold Jones,

1862–1937, American novelist, b. New York City, noted for her subtle, ironic, and superbly crafted fictional studies of New York society at the turn of the 20th cent. The daughter of a socially elect family, she was educated privately in New York and in Europe. In 1885 she married Edward Wharton, a Boston banker; after the first few years of marriage Edward Wharton became mentally ill, and the burden of caring for him fell upon his wife. Finally, in 1913, after she had settled permanently in France, Edith Wharton terminated the marriage by divorce.

Her early stories and tales were collected in The Greater Inclination (1899), Crucial Instances (1901), and The Descent of Man (1904); somewhat narrow in scope, they nevertheless show the unity of mood and the lucid, polished prose style of her more mature works. Much of her writing bears a resemblance to the fiction of Henry James, who was her close friend. However, the similarities are superficial, and in her best and most characteristic novels—The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920; Pulitzer Prize)—she asserts herself as a distinctive artist. Recreating the atmosphere of the unadventurous, ceremonious upper-class society of New York, she depicts in these and other works the cruelty of social convention, the changing fashions in morality, and the conflicts that arise between money values and moral values.

In the novella Ethan Frome (1911)—one of her best-known, most successful, and least characteristic works—Wharton evokes the tragic fate of three people against the stark background of rural New England. Among her many other novels are The Valley of Decision (1902), a historical novel of 18th-century Italy; The Custom of the Country (1913); Hudson River Bracketed (1929) and its sequel, The Gods Arrive (1932); and an unfinished work, The Buccaneers (1938). Collections of her short stories include Xingu and Other Stories (1916), Certain People (1930), and Ghosts (1937). Wharton also wrote travel books (e.g., Italian Backgrounds, 1905), books on interior design and architecture (e.g., The Decoration of Houses, 1897; Italian Villas and Their Gardens, 1904), literary criticism, and poetry. In 1915 she was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French government for her services during World War I.

Bibliography

See her collected stories (2 vol., 2001); her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934, repr. 1998); her letters, ed. by R. W. B. Lewis (1988); biographies by L. Auchincloss (1971), R. W. B. Lewis (1975, repr. 1985), S. Benstock (1994), E. Dwight (1994), and H. Lee (2007); studies by M. B. McDowell (1976, repr. 1991), C. G. Wolff (1977, repr. 1995), E. Ammons (1980), G. Walton (rev. ed. 1982), G. S. Rahi (1983), D. Holbrook (1991), B. A. White (1991), K. A. Fedorko (1995), C. J. Singley (1995), J. Dyman (1996), J. Beer (1997), S. B. Wright (1997), A. R. Tintner (1999), and H. Hoeller (2000).

References in periodicals archive ?
Liverright advertisements boasted about "a new sort of book about colored people--the birthday of a fine novel about Negroes of the upper classes of New York and Philadelphia--as impressive and vital in their special environment as the upper class whites whom Edith Wharton .
They also reintroduce debate about the psychic foundations of her writing, recalling what Cynthia Griffin Wolff in her 1977 critical biography, A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton, terms "emotional starvation.
Or perhaps Richard Warrington Baldwin Lewis was right after all and Spain was a country Edith Wharton "found it hard to make her way into, imaginatively".
The fact that Edith Wharton maintained a deliberate public distance from feminist causes and political activism, during her lengthy and successful literary career, is not a new observation --given that numerous biographers and critics have reinforced, emphasized, and examined this fact from various vantage points.
Rules of Civility is like a collage of the 20th century's greatest cultural hits: a glimpse of Edith Wharton here, a wink towards Hitchcock there, a blast of Cole Porter there.
For mature readers, or students of literature, Deborah Noyes has created a fine introduction to some of the concerns of Edith Wharton and other writers who were her contemporaries, and who chose, like her, to live and write in France.
5) Finally, Jennie Kassanoff's Edith Wharton and the Politics of Race (2004) moves towards an exploration of Wharton's "complex conservatism" (7), seeing her not so much as "thoroughly implicated" (Ammons 83) but as consciously formulating and thinking about a conservative racial politics, even developing a "racial aesthetic--a theory of language and literature that encoded a deeply conservative, and indeed essentialist, model of American citizenship" (Kassanoff 5).
The authors has also provided five pages of titles for further reading and concludes that Edith Wharton can no longer be dismissed as 'Henry James Lite' but must be regarded as 'a writer who draws richly on multiple traditions, and takes readers into new and complex forms of literature'.
In The Architectural Imagination of Edith Wharton, Annette Benert examines Wharton's fiction in the context of the author's interest in architecture and design and, more generally, within the social and political functions the built environment served during the decades in which Wharton wrote.
The "split between body and soul" that Edith Wharton deplores in the religious practices of her time is at the heart of Laura E.
6) Edith Wharton, Twilight Sleep (New York and London: Appleton, 1927), p.